Mystery in Sochi

They are about two inches wide,
squarish, and five inches tall.
They hail from the Toggenburg
Valley of northeast Switzerland,
and they are held in the highest
regard by experts around the world.
They are glass bottles used to hold
athletes’ urine samples.

(From Mystery in Sochi Doping Case Lies With Tamper-Proof Bottle. Submitted by Evie Groch)

Man Adrift

He felt at times as if he were still in the Navy,
adrift on the sea, peering down through the vents

the way he used to squint through binoculars
on deck duty, keeping a lookout for objects

of interest. Life in the attic was humdrum.
His motel was a drydocked boat whose guests

endlessly watched television, exchanged
banalites, had sex mainly under the covers

if they had sex at all–and gave him so little
to write about that sometimes he wrote nothing at all.

(From The Voyeur’s Motel. Submitted by DawnCorrigan)

A modern gentleman

Carries house guests’ luggage to their rooms, breaks
a relationship face to face
has read ​Pride and Prejudice, demonstrates
that making love is neither a race
nor a competition. Never lets a door
slam in someone’s face, is unafraid
to speak the truth, arrives five minutes before,
possesses at least one dark suit, well-made.
Can undo a bra with one hand, has two
tricks to entertain children, can prepare
a bonfire, says his name when introduced,
cooks an omelette to die for. Knows that there
is always an exception to a rule;
avoids lilac socks, polishes his shoes.

(From Revealed: The 39 steps to being a modern gentleman)

The very last of something

Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is,
his eye a sad black dot in his wrinkled face
his head a marvellous thing, a majestic rectangle
of strong bone and leathery flesh,
a head that expresses pure strength.
How terrible that such a mighty head
can be so vulnerable, lowered melancholically
beneath the sinister sky, as if weighed down by fate.
This is the noble head of an old warrior,
armour battered, appetite for struggle fading.

(From A picture of loneliness: you are looking at the last male northern white rhino. Submitted by Angi Holden)

Death in the afternoon

My body is falling apart, he said
He shaved meticulously
He forgot about his eyes and ears
He smelled good

Bloody certificates
another barrier to impetuous action
in case of lovelorn despair, for example
ten minutes before noon

A sparkling, sunny day in late spring
We ate more cherries
Even he tasted one or two
and the angels looked quite grateful

No one talked about the next act
No one talked very much at all
The angels went for a walk around the garden
We stayed where we were, savouring the lovely day

Do you know what this is?
Do you know what will happen if you drink it?
Do you want me to give it to you?
Yes, I do. I will die.

His eyes shut, quietly
It’s over now
Goodbye then
I returned to the garden.

(From ‘I held his hand as he drank the fatal dose’: the day my husband chose to die. Submitted by Grace Andreacchi)

What They Don’t Tell You

My mum doesn’t know who I am.
Sometimes I’m her sister.
Sometimes I’m her dead mother.
Once I was Shirley Bassey,
which made for an interesting evening.

I’d assumed we’d have lots of time
to get to know each other properly.
I was wrong. Instead of visiting coffee shops,
we ended up visiting the memory clinic.
It’s like going home with a newborn baby,
but with less support and no balloons.

They don’t tell you that she’ll hit you
as you coax her into the bath.
Neither do they tell you what nappies to buy
when she becomes incontinent,
how to persuade her to wear one
or stop her taking it off
and stashing it in a pillow case.

They don’t tell you what to do
when she thinks that the small boy
you pass on your walk is her grandson,
and tries to talk to him. Nobody tells you
how to placate the angry parents.

They don’t tell you that she’s never
going to phone you again, see you get married,
be a grandmother to your kids.
Nobody tells you how to channel the anger
you feel that your fellow thirtysomethings’ lives
now involve marriage, mortgages and children,
and yours revolves around a confused old lady
who doesn’t know who you are.
They’ve chosen their responsibilities;
you’d give anything not to have yours.

They don’t tell you that you’ll spend hours
trying to feed her a spoonful of hospital jelly
even though she’s pretty much given up on eating,
because you can’t just watch her starve.

It doesn’t matter how distraught you are
that she’s wasting away before your eyes,
or how much it upsets you to agree
to the doctor’s request for a DNR order;
this disease is relentless .

I’m still not sure how to feel about it
when there’s nothing tangible to mourn.
“Waking grief” someone called it.
When the person you knew is gone, but not gone.
But it’s not. It’s a waking, sleeping,
cloud of despair. But then nobody tells you
how to grieve either, do they?

Especially when there’s no funeral to go to.

(From What they don’t tell you about dementia. Submitted by Angi Holden)

Jamdani Weavers

A bead of sweat rolls down my face;
I am struck by the silence. The air
is hushed and filled with concentration.

On the banks of the Lakshya
master weavers sit in pairs, barely breaking
sweat at their bamboo looms.
The men are shirtless. The women rest
their arms on cheap white cotton,
protecting the delicate muslin.

Hands interlace silky gold thread
into sheer cloth the colour of oxblood.

Around us turquoise, yellow and white billows
in the breeze that – like a cool blessing –
comes off the river through latticed bamboo walls.

Motifs – jasmine, marigolds, peacock feathers –
neither embroidered nor printed,
are painstakingly sewn by hand.

Children of the loom, taught by their fathers:
strong backs and magic fingers. Dedication.

(From The delicate material that takes months to weave by hand. Submitted by Angi Holden)

Annoyance

Just when we thought some
of the old annoyances
of the 20th century
had died out, they come
roaring back
new,
improved,
upgraded,
and intensified like the government

dug up their corpses
and stuffed them with hydraulics
and, like, RAM sticks
and shit, and turned
them into deadly cybernetic warriors.
They didn’t die.
They were waiting.
They were adapting.
They. Were. Evolving.

They’ve returned,
fortified by modern technology,
designed to annoy us anywhere,
everywhere,
and at the convenience of
the person who wants to annoy us.

(From 4 Obnoxious Behaviors The Modern World Made Worse. Submitted by Kenn Merchant)

Absent Father

I find myself here with a baby with delicate bones,
fine features and blue eyes, who – especially asleep,
when she’s at her most beautiful – looks exactly like you.
The fine movements of the lips, the almond-shaped eyes,
the one dimple on her right cheek.
I still find this resemblance strangely, unsettlingly painful.

I imagine you waking up beside that other woman,
whoever she might be; she will never find out
about this one aspect of your life.
I find it hard to picture you; I don’t know your apartment,
but I imagine you waking up in it, flat on your back,
elbow tucked beneath your head, thinking of your baby,
somewhere, with someone else, hundreds of miles away.

For a few minutes every once in a while,
more rarely each year,
and too briefly.

Taken from A letter to…my baby’s absent father in The Guardian, 7th June 2014. Submitted by Angi Holden.